THE takeover of Basildon’s empty town centre cinema could see the council hand over £3 million to national chain Vue, it has been revealed. 

Vue Cinemas is in the final stages of talks with Basildon Council to takeover the cinema and finally open doors to the public after the project was hit with major delays when original operator Empire Cinemas went into administration. 

Tomorrow, the council’s cabinet is set to vote on the details of a 20-year lease with Vue. However, council documents - seen by the Echo - have revealed the council is set to give £3 million to the cinema chain as a “capital contribution” to help the firm kit out the inside of the cinema. 

Echo: Letter - Mr Smith published an open letter sent to Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove, outlining his concerns.Letter - Mr Smith published an open letter sent to Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove, outlining his concerns. (Image: Ben Shahrabi)

Vue has told the council that more than £3 million of work is needed and it will have to invest additional money. However, independent councillor Kerry Smith has branded the payment a “sweetener” and a “waste of taxpayers' money”. 

The council will charge Vue £400,000 a year in rent as well as taking 15 per cent of the cinema’s profits, above £3.5 million, and council leaders have insisted the deal is a necessity to get the cinema open. So far, the council has spent £26.7 million on the cinema complex. 

Mr Smith revealed the details of the deal in an independent letter he wrote to Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove and delivered to 200 residents in the borough. 

He said: “This is a sweetener to put seating and other furniture in, to fit it out. So, the council, and therefore the taxpayer, has got to foot the bill. Do the maths. Charging £400,000 a year in rent for 20 years is not enough to recoup the costs of getting it built. 

“It’s putting the council at risk of going bankrupt.”

Mr Smith urged Mr Gove to step in and prevent the deal from being signed off, claiming there has “not been a full scrutiny process”.

He told the Echo: “It’s such a bad deal. I’ve reached out to the council to ask for this to come before the scrutiny process, but they say there’s no time to do so. I’m opting to take a bullet to protect the taxpayer. I’m now blowing the whistle and revealing confidential information to ensure nothing is swept under the carpet.”

The council documents state: “This offer is from one of the leading cinema operators and is felt to represent a reasonable commercial offer for the council. This should have a positive impact on the scheme as a whole, helping to attract new tenants to the restaurant units within but also elsewhere in the town centre.”

Yesterday, Mr Smith published an open letter addressed to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Copies were also sent to 200 Basildon residents.

In it, he urged Mr Gove to intervene to delay the decision and “save the council from becoming bankrupt”.

Mr Smith said: “When you compare the investment costs against the promised rent, the hard-pressed taxpayer of the Basildon borough will be out of pocket to the tune of £21.6 million.”

£400,000 per annum will be paid in rent to the council from the fourth year of Vue’s tenancy, which Mr Smith claims is “insufficient” to recoup the £26.7 million spent by the council on the overall development.

He added: “I ask you to take direct steps today to save Basildon Council from becoming another local authority to join the growing list councils that have become bankrupt.”

When asked about the £3 million in relation to Mr Smith's concerns, a Basildon Council spokesman said: "The council agreed a balanced budget for 2024/25 at a meeting of Full Council on 22 February 2024.”